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United were looking to build on the nervy but morale boosting win at City last weekend. Bolton meanwhile, despite being at the wrong end of the table had managed to win their last two away games but would have to be without Gary Cahill who was in London to complete a move to Chelsea. United kept Lindegaard in goal and brought Rafael and Evans into defence whilst Scholes was given a start in midfield.
Below, we discuss the talking points and invite Bolton fans as well as United fans to join in the discussion.
Ferdinand and Evans are solid (Rafael and Evra aren’t bad either)
With Jones and Smalling both injured, Evans was recalled after his brief spell out also due to injury. He partnered Ferdinand at the back – a pairing that previously has been assuring and impressive. Evans has been something of a boo-boy – unfancied by a lot of fans because of a dip in form last season and because ‘he always has an error in him’. This year, his red card which lead to the embarrassing home defeat against City hasn’t helped him and it’s sadly what many will associate his season with.
The reality however is somewhat different. Evans has been excellent for United on a regular basis and whilst many will scrunch up their face to stats, he has the best clean sheets to games ration/percentage of our centre backs with 60% of the games he’s played in this season ending up with United keeping a clean sheet. Coincidence? Maybe but I’m inclined to believe there’s something in that stat.
Against Bolton, United’s defence had little to do but generally handled any problems well – with the exception of one sloppy pass leading to N’Gog firing a shot way into orbit. Evans and Ferdinand only had 16 clearances to make whilst Jonny won all of his tackles. As a pairing, they compliment each other quite nicely. Both are ball-players and whilst Rio prefers to coax a defender into an error, Evans would much rather get tight and make an early tackle. Both at various points even went on Jonesesqe runs forward in and out of possession.
They were flanked by Rafael, making his first start of the season in the right back position, and the ever-present Evra.
Chalkboard 1: Evra passing and Rafael tackling heatmap
Evra, as ever played high up the pitch and was accurate with his passing. It’s interesting to see that he didn’t attempt a single cross all game – this coupled with Valencia’s dominance down the right shows how United had clearly highlighted Bolton’s left side as a weakness. Evra’s performances have often been highlighted as below-par this season but recently he seems to be back to the level we’re all accustomed to.
Rafael understandably appeared rusty but 90 injury-free minutes were a welcome and encouraging sign. He is a super young player who, like Evra, likes to play in the opposition’s half. Yesterday was a good example of his attacking defensive play (!) – he made 10 tackles with half of them inside the final third of the pitch. Smalling and Jones have both been excellent as stand-in right backs but you cannot beat a natural and Rafael’s got all the hallmarks of a great full back.
One midfielder grabbed the headlines but his partner was the star
Paul Scholes completed his remarkable return to the side with a start and a goal. Even the fans who were dismayed by the club’s readiness to welcome him back couldn’t help but feel a little fuzzy inside when he scored just before half time. His performance wasn’t as bad as Match Of The Day suggested but also not really headline worthy. Yes, his passing accuracy was again above 90% but only a couple were telling and early on a loose ball nearly played United into trouble. A couple of classic cross field passes didn’t come off for him but for an hour he kept up with the pace enough and offered a good outlet next to Carrick. Goal aside, he even found himself making late runs into the box on other occasions.
His partner though was the stand out performer in the middle of the pitch. Despite missing eight of United’s league games this season, Carrick’s arguably been the most consistent and best performer. Carrick of course is a statistician’s dream – makes more passes than anyone else, has a higher accuracy than anyone else, makes more interceptions than anyone else etc but he’s also a fine footballer.
Chalkboard 2: Carrick passing and interceptions
Passing accuracy means your opposition don’t have the ball and therefore can’t score but the ‘sideways/backwards’ label that many throw onto Carrick is indeed unfair. That myth has been somewhat dispelled this season and yesterday would have seen maybe the assist of the season had Welbeck’s shot found the net. Whilst United lack true world class quality in the middle, they have arguably the best reader of the game there in Carrick. His 6 interceptions were nearly half of all the interceptions made by United and he’s the only player in United’s side to have made more than 35 this season; averaged more than 3 a game; and averaged making one more regularly than every 30 minutes. These stats and facts may not be fancy but they’re crucial to the team.
It’s hard not to agree with Fergie who said after yesterday’s win:
“His (Carrick’s) form in the last few weeks has been pivotal to all of our performances”
Maybe the only thing I’d say is that “weeks” should have been “months”.
Form: Valencia and Welbeck
In recent weeks Valencia has propelled himself to the top of United’s assist charts – joint top with Nani in the league (7) and in all competitions (9). He was described by Fergie as “absolutely brilliant” yesterday and Evra suggested that Bolton’s left back (Ricketts) must have had a problem with his abductor muscles by the end of the game because Antonio’s so strong.
He tormented Bolton all afternoon whether he has running from within the United half and powering past players or receiving the ball wide to get a cross in. It was also his clever pass that set Welbeck clear from which a penalty was won.
Chalkboard 3: Valencia crossing
Some of his crosses yesterday where unbelievable – it’s amazing he ended the game without an assist. Time and time again he got to the byline and whipped in a low ball with pace on it forcing either a good block or Bogdan to make a parry. One can only imagine the fun Hernandez may have had getting on the end of the crosses had he come on earlier than the 78th minute.
The other player who’s form is good and in his case has never really dipped this season is Welbeck. His energy, enthusiasm and movement is so mature – he’s like Tevez in that respect but more in control and more comfortable when on the ball. His style remains languid but at only just 21 he’s already a strong young man, not easily shaken off the ball and his pace is deceiving – long strides easily take him away from defenders.
Welbeck, as has been hinted before, tends to bring the best out of those around him and for that he maybe hasn’t quite received the plaudits he should have done so far this season. His goal yesterday, his fifth in the league this season was richly deserved. His determination to get to the ball first and then have the ability to get a shot away whilst falling backwards under pressure showed he’s not all about style. His goal return maybe should be better but there’s no doubting his influence is being felt beyond goals.
He has his doubters, particularly those who felt he should have flourished aged 17 after his wonder-goal against Stoke but once again he’s proving that with patience comes results. Danny’s the future of United and he’s going to be a star.
Time to define our season
At the end of the first weekend in March, we’ll have a good idea of how successful this season will be. United’s next nine games include away trips to Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs in the league; Liverpool in the FA Cup and Ajax in the Europa League – whilst Liverpool also come to United in the league and Ajax have their return leg at Old Trafford.
Wins against City and Bolton are perfect to get a run of form and momentum going. With big game after big game set to come momentum may be crucial in carrying United into each test. Defeats can see confidence spiral out of control.
Fergie’s use of the squad in particular will have to be clever with easier games such as Stoke at home and Norwich away maybe used to rest key individuals. Even the Europa League may have to be treated somewhat as secondary as the importance of regaining the title comes to the fore.
United went joint top with City after beating Bolton 3-0 at home. City play tomorrow at Wigan whilst Spurs surprisingly dropped points at home to Wolves.
It was a routine win for United with few scares but the game should have been finished by half time. Chances were missed including a Rooney penalty for the second game running after Welbeck was fouled. Knight was lucky to only see yellow for his foul on Danny whilst Bogdan in goal made a good save. Bogdan was finally beaten by United’s own ginger just before half time. A Nani cross was blocked and Rooney rolled the ball across the six yard box to an unmarked Scholes who couldn’t miss. An amazing moment that would have seemed impossible only a week earlier.
United started the second half sluggishly and it wasn’t until Nani, who’d tried hard but had a poor game; and Scholes, who’d tired were replaced that the game was out of sight. Rooney’s exchange with Giggs saw him slip through Welbeck who toe-poked past Bogdan to make it 2-0. Rooney injured his wrist in the build up but played on – Welbeck though had to be subbed off after slightly twisting his knee (he’ll be ok for Arsenal said Fergie). The win was sealed as Carrick added a third late on – a passed left footed finish from distance allowed him to enjoy a moment with the Stretford End – his first goal at home for two years.
Encouraging performances from various players, most notably Valencia as well as a good 90 minutes for Rafael and the the return of Evans were positive signs. Ferdinand got concussion but it would see everyone who played should be fit for the big game next week. After a recent blip, United appear to be back in some control again. Here’s hoping City slip up at Wigan tomorrow!